The Abomination that is Android

Over the years I’ve used Ericson and Nokia phones mostly. When it became time to start moving into the “smart phone” arena I got a Nokia N9. Then a Samsung Galaxy Note 2, and now the Note 4. Migration (between Android phones) is harder than it should be. Much harder.

During all of these migrations over the last 15 years I’ve had very few serious migration problems, until now. Going from the Ericson to Nokia it was a simple matter of moving my SIM card over which contained all of my contacts and SMSs. Very little customization possible, so losing settings like the exact twinkle to use when a SMS arrives or ring tone to use was not serious. I guess you could say that up to the N9 the most serious settings to lose was per-contact ring tones just about. Nokia started the trend of storing contact and messaging data one the device itself. More and faster memory so this made a lot of sense. The N9 nicely pulled all my contacts off my previous phone (E52 IIRC, and a 3310 before that, also seemless) using some Nokia built-in application – just had to flip bluetooth on on the old phone, even got my messaging history.

Going from the N9 to the Note 2 … well, the only real stuff I wanted to keep was my contacts and my messaging. And my WhatsApp chat history. I had to settle for contact data only. Seeing that the applications between the two is incompatible (Meego vs Android) I really can’t expect much here.

When my contract was due for upgrade the previous I read up about migration, and got a lot of mixed opinions on the Internet, spoke with some of my colleagues and decided that I’d rather get the S4 and hand that off to the company to replace one of the other aging phones that was going well beyond end-of-life expectancy. In part because I was happy with the Note 2 (still am), in part because the company really needed to replace the brick (black berry) that was the support phone and in part because the migration feedback I got from all over was very mixed and a successful migration sounded like it was not going to be trivial.

I’m a tweaker. But I don’t like change. Don’t force it on me. I’m rather verbal and very strongly opinionated. I’m “minimalistic” in many ways (just look at the default theme for this blog). But I’m extremely picky on other things. If I want a 150ms tap-delay and the default is 250ms, I’ll change it. I’ll keep changing things like keyboard timing settings and speeds until I’m just happy. Then they must remain that way. I get very upset when some idiot developer comes around and takes away that setting because “almost no was using it anyway”, or it was causing too much problems because users can’t figure out that they shouldn’t set some setting this way or that in combination with certain other settings. That just means your context-help is inadequate – not that the feature is pointless or broken. Or just add sanity checks that warns that the setting is not recommended.

Having said that – I’m not the kind that gets down on rooting my phone and installing custom ROMs. That’s a rabbit-hole that I’m not into. A phone should just work. So should an operating system for that matter. I shouldn’t need to install a gazillion applications just to make something usable, with a gazillion applications that doesn’t integrate properly either.

So when my latest contract renewal came up and starting to feel the age of the Note 2 (the S-Pen no longer works, and here and there it sometimes feels like the phone is getting slightly sluggish at times) I was honestly in two minds. On the one hand we can do with an extra spare phone in the office, and having used the same phone for a minimum of four years now an itch had to be scratched – on the other hand – the phone is still perfectly usable, two replaced screens down the line. All of my settings are perfectly tweaked the way I wanted them. So after using google a bit, and speaking again with those in the office that really use their phones to the full it sounded like migration should be easy. Heck, it’s android to android, and it’s linux, so everything is stored in the filesystem anyway, probably some kind of home folder, so a migration really should just be “copy the user data folder from phone A to phone B” and it’s probably built into the operating system anyway.

I was wrong. Very, very wrong. If I knew a month back what I know now I would have either stuck with the Note 2 or abandoned Android and moved to iPhone. Can’t say that I like the iPhone look&feel though, so probably just stick with the Note 2 then …

So after making somewhat of a spectacle on Facebook it started to feel like I’m the only person on the face of this planet that has a problem with this. Yet, every backup/restore application that I’ve managed to locate states clearly that it has limited capabilities. “Not all application data can be backed up due to restrictions”. Enough said. If it can’t be backed up, it probably can’t be copied, which means it can’t be migrated. That is broken. So there is probably legitimate reasons to prevents users from copying their own data … oh wait – did I just say there are legitimate reasons to stop me from copying my own data? It’s MY DATA for crying in a bucket.

So I tried numerous mechanisms to migrate from my Note 2 to my new Note 4. All of them failed dismally with the “Samsung Smart Switch” being the application that actually got the best results (and actually ran the fastest when eventually it succeeded after four failed attempts – normally I would have given up after attempt two but I was really getting desperate).

First up:

Tap&Go:

The idea behind tap and go is that the operating system during initial setup allows you to have the two phones establish an initial connection via NFC and then to pull over everything from the old phone to the new phone. The results? Required a factory reset to get back to the starting point. To be specific I made about 5 attempts at this because this was the general recommended way.

The success portions:

* Google account information got pulled over.
* Wifi connection information got pulled over.
* A list of applications that should be installed got pulled over.

The failures?

* The applications gets downloaded from Google Play store – which took about an hour and a half.
* No contacts were pulled over.
* No message history was pulled over.
* No application settings were pulled over.
* The desktop got scrambled, no icons appeared and ugly squares were sitting all over the show where application icons should reside.
* Background images were not set.
* Lock-screen patterns were not set.
* Lock-screen background was not set.
* No application data was pulled over (eg, WhatsApp chat history).

Google Services

Well, so against better judgment I figured I’m not going to get this done if I don’t take the plunge and enable this cloud backup google thing. Needless to say – the result was the exact same dismal as per above. Didn’t give this a second shot since I really don’t like the idea of my data residing on Google’s servers. Yes, I realize that they control my OS anyway, and can just steal my data anyway, but giving them permission – and actually inviting them – to do so just doesn’t sit right with me.

Titanium Backup

This requires root privileges but seems to be the best possible option. This apparently has no issues with DRM, or any other content apparently and is what my colleagues recommended. I actually gave them permission, and encouraged them, to root both phones and stuff the warranty on the new phone. Due to the Note4 being so new they were not keen on this, and I don’t blame them. So Titanium backup is also not really an option, but it does sound like it can actually get the job done somewhat better than any other option currently.

Helium

With the exception that it actually managed to get contact data, and at least some of my galleries and downloaded content, over it really did no better than tap&go. By the time I realized that this application is also not going to work … could no longer get my refund. Waste of money. Don’t bother.

Samsung Smart Switch

So after giving up on ever using my new phone I took it back to the store today to go ask for help. They just said use samsung smart switch. Starting it up is simple enough (you just go through the “set up my new phone” steps as quickly as possible, and go to play store and install it). Then you start it on both phones, set the phone types, select the sender and receiver, link them using NFC after which they establish a Wifi link, and then the magic happens.

On the sender you select everything you would like to send, and there is a large number of tick boxes. So first the success:

* It pulled over my full SMS history.
* It pulled over all of my contacts!!
* It pulled over all of my applications, even those that I did not install via Google Play store (unlike tap&go).
* At least my lock-screen background got set.
* It pulled over all my Wifi networks.
* Photo galleries!

Failures?

* No application data (Including things like WhatsApp chat history).
* No application settings (Eg, login details for Facebook, Keyboard settings for SwiftKey).
* No Wifi Hotspot settings.
* No search history.
* Still no default applications from previous phone.
* Background images were lost.
* Layout of my application icons were lost.
* Keyboard settings (timing related stuff, heat maps, patterns, custom dictionary) were lost.
* Probably many, many more that I haven’t realized yet.

Fortunately I had the savvy of factory resetting the old phone after I verified that most of my critical stuff is over. Or otherwise I probably would have sold off the Note4 (even at a huge loss, almost to the point of just giving it away) and stuck with the Note2.

Last thoughts

All in all I must admit I’m horrified at the state of migrations on “out of the box” Android. It really and truly is horrible. If someone asks me for a recommendation for a phone at the moment I’ll tell them to get an iPhone or a BlackBerry even, at least you can migrate them from the sounds of it (and I’ve personally spoken with non-technical users on both that have completed the process without assistance). I don’t consider myself a phone expert, but I reckon more technical than the “average” user. If I can’t get it done – how do you expect my granny, or even my mother to complete the process? Or perhaps I’m just being unreasonable that I expect this kind of “just work” magic and everybody else is content to lose just about all of their data/settings every time they get a new phone?

I’ll tell you this much – if the process isn’t simplified tremendously in the short term I for one will not move to a new phone again any time soon. The only migration will be if my phone gets stolen or otherwise broken beyond repair. The process really should be as simple as:

# Switch on your new phone.
# Be asked – would you like to migrate from a previous Android phone or perform a new setup? If new, follow current process which I must say is quite nice. If Migrate:
# Be informed, please activate NFC on your old phone and hold the two phones back to back.
# The phones should link, establish a Wifi link, go into “migrate mode” (meaning shut down all applications on the source device, even go as far as disconnecting from the mobile network if need be, basically – just keep running what absolutely has to be).
# /data from the source phone should be cloned over to the new phone (similar to me running an rsync of /home/jkroon off an old laptop onto a new one whilst nothing is touching it).
# The old phone should shut down, and the new one reboot, obviously you need to move your SIM and SD card.
# Everything should just work, keeping my old application data and settings, my preferences etc …

As one commenter on my tirade said:

“The iPhone 5S I use right now is still practically the 3GS I first got end 2010. My ecosystem has always been Apple-oriented, however; don’t see how I’d ever be able to logically justify moving to any other hardware/OS platforms, so I’m biased. But upgrading a phone has always been a walk in the park, almost boring because it never felt ‘new.’ From what pure saying though, sounds like an ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ mindset should apply.”

It should be boring. The only excitement should be to go through the new features that can be added on top of the existing setup, or used to replace existing settings, but this should be part of a wizard ONCE THE MIGRATION HAS BEEN COMPLETED.

There should be no need to connect to “the cloud” for any of this. With the exception to download new versions of applications if the chipsets differ or there are backward incompatibilities with the operating system. I do know people that the best (only) internet connection they have is GSM. And the data is expensive. Considering the sheer volume of data that I downloaded not only today off the internet just to re-install applications – failures in this area cost people money. At the prices we pay for this hardware I really can expect, and will demand, better. As one of the commenters on Facebook said:

“I think the root (pun intended) of the migration problem is that Google has left much of it up to 3rd parties. You just won’t get seamless and complete migration unless you stick with one vendor forever and they also include a comprehensive backup and restore solution. And let’s face it, all the vendors suck at software.

“Like with the rest of Android, the only way this issue can be fixed is for Google to do it properly instead of leaving it up to others.”

And let’s face it – Google doesn’t really care about you – after all you really are just the product, not the customer.

One Response to “The Abomination that is Android”

  1. Barco says:

    It’s great to see that I’m not the only one who feels this way. It’s almost as if every iteration of Android has it’s own quirks. And like you I’m not thrilled by the iPhone Scene.

    I used many generations of Nokia. But things really went south for me with Nokia when they introduced their 3rd Generation of Symbian OS. I’m not even going to speak about the latest Windows phones.

    To date the best I’ve found was Blackberry. I stuck it out as long as possible. But the recent introduction of Android into their OS and the fact that they are not making their own devices anymore changed things up for me.

    Moving from Blackberry was a huge frustration. Not so much in learning the new Interface. But more in workflow. Like making a call. Just tap 8-10times vs 3-4 buttons on the Blackberry. Everything seems to be designed for bling before usability. Blackberry has been hands-down the most efficient business phone I ever owned.

    Like you I like to make something fit my use case exactly and then have it stay the same. Recently the developer of my Android phone’s bundled keyboard has started sending fake crash notices to get users to upgrade. Apart form it being downright irritating they also don’t release compatible versions for my phone and yet keep pushing notices. That got them some negative cred on Google’s app store.

    Some days I’m beginning to think I should move back to simple communications devices. Dumbphone with SMS and great Batterylife anyone?

    I do tech all day, but the more I consume the more simplicity I demand.

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